Many people expected to see a Tea Party challenge to Mitch McConnell in next year’s Kentucky primary, and it could still happen. However, that challenge will not include any support from the Tea Party’s 2010 candidate for US Senate, Rand Paul. Late yesterday, Paul threw his support behind the highest-ranking member of the GOP establishment in the upper chamber:
The Daily Caller has learned that Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul is endorsing Sen. Mitch McConnell for re-election in 2014, ending speculation that Paul would back a tea party challenge to the Senate minority leader.
“Rand Paul has endorsed McConnell,” Jesse Benton, McConnell’s 2014 campaign manager, told The Daily Caller.
Benton, who has worked for both Rand Paul and his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, is credited by insiders with brokering Paul’s support for McConnell.
The move quashes a determined effort by Kentucky Republican Liberty Caucus chairman David Adams, who launched Paul’s Senate bid and served as Paul’s campaign manager through the 2010 primaries, and other tea party leaders to mount a primary challenge against McConnell.
Sounds as though we have unity on one level, and a split on another. Bear in mind that McConnell’s primary is a year or more away, so this endorsement is coming mighty early in the cycle. So why do this now? Paul might want to quash any hint that he’s fomenting an attack on leadership before it gets started, in order to make it easier for him to build support for his own initiatives in the Senate. There may have been some sort of fallout between Paul, Benton, and Adams over recent votes by Paul, perhaps on the Chuck Hagel confirmation.
It seems beyond doubt that there will be fallout now. The Tea Party had really wanted to take aim at McConnell in order to drive a harder line against Democrats; if immigration reform passes in a bipartisan effort, that desire may rapidly increase, too. The next budget may heighten tensions. But without Paul — or worse for the Tea Party, with Paul actively backing McConnell — the grassroots will split, and without the organizational force of the Ron Paul movement, will probably fall well short of a Mike Lee-type victory.
That’s going to create a lot of hard feelings on the ground among those grassroots, and Paul may end up dissipating some of his support by rushing to endorse the establishment incumbent. We’ll see what how far the fallout spreads, and how long it remains potent.